24. Coming Out

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Reuben lay quietly on his bed for a while after Ayla had left. The maid came in and brought him his breakfast. He ate the breakfast. Then he lay quietly on his bed some more.

The sun slowly rose, and he continued to lie quietly on his bed. He watched the color of its light change on the wall. When it had changed from a faint rose to the golden color of glorious morning, he rose, and began to prepare himself, putting on not only his clothes and mail, but his plate armor as well. This was no time to do things half-way. This was a time of war.

Finally, he threw over a long black cloak he found hanging in the garderobe. He wasn't exactly sure how forthcoming Ayla had been about his true identity to the other inmates of the castle. True, after his entrance the other day there was hardly any doubt for those who had a copper's worth of brains in their heads. But still... he felt slightly apprehensive.

This was the first time he would be leaving his room. Really leaving his room. Not sneaking out in the middle of the night, or forcing his way past his guards, but walk through Ayla's castle as a free man.

As her defender, though the others didn't know that yet.

His dark coat swirling behind him, he marched to the door and threw it open.

The corridor was empty of guards. She had spoken the truth. Despite her words, she apparently trusted him.

As he strode down the corridor towards the stairs, Reuben, for the first time since that dark night when she and her whole village had to flee behind the castle walls, that dark night when she had discovered his true identity, allowed himself to ponder what her feelings were. Before, he thought with a smirk, there had been no doubt. Her feelings had been quite evident from the way she hit him in the face and called him all the names her innocent little mind could think of.

Now though...

She trusted him. But did she love him?

Had she ever loved him? She had never said so. But then, he had never asked.

Reuben snorted. Well, if she didn't, he was going to put himself to an awful lot of trouble for no good reason. He couldn't believe he had practically agreed to fight for her for—he shuddered at the very thought—for free! He hadn't fought for free in years! He had stolen and ravished and plundered and killed, and it had always been as it should be: purely for personal gain.

What he was about to do now felt so disgustingly honorable! It almost reminded him of the old days when he had been so stupid as to fight for foolish phantasms like glory, duty or honor.

Plus, he would have to defend people. Peasants who couldn't fight for themselves! He had never even considered defending anyone or anything, let alone someone who couldn't help in a fight. Why carry dead weight, why waste food on commoners? In any of the sieges he had previously been in, he would have advised the Lady of the castle to chuck all of the peasants out of the stronghold, or to save time, simply to cut their throats. However, he doubted such a suggestion would go over well with Ayla.

A different strategy would have to be devised to get them out of the situation they were in. And the first thing he needed to do was to assess that situation.

Reuben went down the stairs, then stepped out of the keep door into the morning. The sun was just rising over the wall and bathed him in her glorious light. He stretched and gazed around.

What a wonderful feeling to be free again. Really free. He had no guards on his tail, he had no mistrust to fear, and he could go out and kill whomever he liked. Provided of course it was a member of the enemy army. He would have to remember that annoying restriction.

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